{ "media_type": "text", "post_content": "I’m 5th year at a small firm in coastal California. Billable hour req is 1500, pay is $170k plus bonus. I have $180k in student debt. Love the lifestyle but want to get out of debt and start investing in income properties and saving for a primary home. Should I consider lateraling to big law, or will I immediately regret it?", "post_id": "61687f79250937002f82dc99", "reply_count": 28, "vote_count": 2, "bowl_id": "5df70ed2f7169f002b172d3f", "bowl_name": "Big Law" }

I’m 5th year at a small firm in coastal California. Billable hour req is 1500, pay is $170k plus bonus. I have $180k in student debt. Love the lifestyle but want to get out of debt and start investing in income properties and saving for a primary home. Should I consider lateraling to big law, or will I immediately regret it?

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Can we trade? Your current position sounds like the escape from Biglaw that I’ve been looking for. Decent salary, billable requirement so low that it would feel part-time compared to my current job. EDIT: But more seriously, I’m surprised you’re having trouble paying down your debt and saving with a $180k salary. Have you consolidated and refinanced your school loans? Did you recently get a pay increase? If not, I think you need to take a hard look at your finances. I’m not sure moving states for a bigger salary will solve all of your issues. I’m in LA, so I do understand how expensive it can be here. And even with a Biglaw salary, I haven’t been able to purchase a home (been trying since 2018), so I can understand if real estate is the primary driver of your planned move.

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That you ran your own firm does explain why you’re a fifth year with $180k debt. I imagine a lot of your money went to running the firm. So yes, Big Law would help you pay down faster (fifth year myself, just finished paying my loans off this year). Just be aware that what you’re leaving behind is a really great money-to-hours ratio. Though since you ran your own firm, you may have a better sense of what a 2600 hour year feels like than most people who leave smaller firms for more money.

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In your practice area, it will be hard to find a firm that will let you “coast” anywhere near 2000 hours. I know many corporate associates in the 2200-2500 range. 1500 to 2200 is like adding a part-time job to your current one. Your salary will double (although I wouldn’t be surprised if you had to take a haircut in class), but your QOL may decrease significantly. $170k is plenty of money to live off in an area where a 1 bedroom is only $1900. Many people are looking for the role you’re in. A lot of small firm jobs advertise 1700 hours in my area, but they are usually lying. If people KNEW a place was only doing 1500 hours, the firm would have a line of hundreds of attorneys wanting that job.

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Yeah I think I bring enough value such that they would allow it

1500 hours sounds absolutely amazing, coming from someone at 1900

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Facts. I went from small law requiring 1800 to BL thinking 1900 wasn’t bad. On track for a lot more than that lol

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You should consider meeting with a financial planner. Your new-ish salary gives you a lot of power that it sounds like you may not be leveraging. You can definitely focus on aggressively paying down that debt while maintaining a reasonable lifestyle. Whether and how to fit in real estate investing as a competing priority is the question the financial planner can help you with. Shooting from the hip and with very limited to no context, it sounds like you should be foregoing that for now and focusing on getting that debt down and investing vanilla (401(k) maxed in some boring ass ETFs). A move to biglaw and the certain negative hit to your lifestyle would probably be a mistake. The money is honestly (mostly) not worth it.

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I really appreciate this input. I’ll absolutely look into it.

Which coastal city, what practice area?

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Transactional corporate and commercial. I’ve been working with a recruiter over the last few weeks.

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How much you work will depend on the firm. Some firms you won’t be able to turn down work and it could be in the 2400+ range but if you can retain control and turn down work, you could get away with billing 2000-2100. 180K of debt as a 5th year is significant (unless you stopped payments during the pandemic and have the payoff in a high yield account). Regardless, I would at least go through the interviews and you can always use that to leverage a pay bump at your current firm.

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The big law move would likely put my in Denver or Boulder, Co. currently in a small California coastal town.

What practice area? Denver and Boulder are small markets and not easy to break into.

What are your partnership prospects?

I would stay 100%

If you can make this kind of money for those kinds of hours as a 5th year, you are ok with the work, and future prospects look good, change nothing except (perhaps) your lifestyle at the margins so you can be a little more aggressive with debt payments. Your situation sounds almost too good to be true (and if your firm is hiring, please let me know).

My firm is hiring. DM me.

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